Joe Dirt

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Dennie Gordon
Starring: David Spade, Dennis Miller, Brittany Daniel, Christopher Walken
Rated: PG-13

I knew it was going to be bad, but it was worse than I imagined. The trailer clued the wary viewer in on the fact that Joe Dirt was going to be less than brilliant. Conceived and originally marketed as The Adventures of Joe Dirt, yet abbreviated at the last moment to merely Joe Dirt, I hold that they could’ve dropped the Joe and been nearer the mark. The trailer made clear that this was to be an idiotic glorification of the Americanus Napus Rosa at its most virulent, wrapped in lame, tasteless “jokes” that wallow (sometimes quite literally) in that subsection of humor known as scatology. What the trailer did not make clear was that Joe Dirt would transcend mere glorification and head straight for the deification of its central character. It also didn’t make it clear that the film would toss in enough anti-gay references to fill a hate-mongering pamphlet. (Within the film’s sketchy 88 minutes — it’ll seem like 188, but it really is 88 — Joe’s sexuality is questioned no less than half a dozen times as the ultimate putdown.) Early in the film, radio shock jock Zander Kelly (Dennis Miller, who ought to be ashamed of himself) calls Joe (David Spade) “exquisitely pathetic,” and while nothing about Joe or the movie that contains him can be called exquisite, it’s certainly pathetic. The story line — if it can be called that — is built around a series of flashbacks of Joe’s life as he tells his tale to Kelly for the amusement and edification of the radio audience. Essentially, Joe was abandoned by his family at the Grand Canyon when he was 8 years old and has spent the rest of his life trying to find them. In theory, this results in a series of “hilarious” misadventures. The problem is that the misadventures are far from hilarious. (Of course, in modern comedy it seems that when you can’t be funny, being gross or just plain stupid is an acceptable substitute.) Even on this level, Joe Dirt tends to fall flat. One of the film’s more extended sequences, for example, finds Joe in a parody of Silence of the Lambs, which is not only unfunny (and mostly serves to set up even more homophobic “humor”), but seemed to zip right on past most of the audience. The film has a tendency toward in-jokes that don’t play to its target audience (just exactly how many teenagers do they expect to “get” the fact that Christopher Walken’s witness-protection-program alias is the name of the actor — Gert Frobe — who played Goldfinger in the James Bond movie of the same name from 1964?). Most of the “big” jokes are well-known to anyone who’s seen the trailer (which even gives away the punch line of one of them!) and there’s precious little else, unless you’re willing to buy into the central concept of Joe Dirt as a heroic figure — the Forrest Gump of the trailer park set — which I am not. The idea that if you’re a nice guy and just keep on keeping on you’ll get what you want is hard to knock, but why must it embrace this concept in terms of the lowest common denominator? Except for scoring a (very) few easy laughs, just what is the virtue of ignorance? Joe Dirt doesn’t answer that question, but it certainly celebrates the idea.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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One thought on “Joe Dirt

  1. Steve

    I had this on the other day while I was cleaning house. Do you think Miller wrote his own dialogue here, or is it just coincidence that he seems to exhibit the growing disdain for his audience that was the precursor to his ultimate move to the Dark Side?

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